Justice Opeyemi Oke, Chief Judge of Lagos State has said petty offenders will no longer be sentenced to prison terms
Oke made this disclosure on Monday while speaking at the presentation of the two practice directions, the ACJL Practice Direction and Restorative Justice Practice Direction, held as part of efforts to ensure an effective justice system. The event took place at the Lagos Judiciary Conference Room, Ikeja.
Justice Oke said once the Practice Directions “comes into operation on June 3, minor offences will be diverted to these centres and restorative justice outcomes applied to ensure that persons who commit minor offences will no longer end up in jail.
“So long as they are prepared to take responsibility for their actions and the harm they have caused system,” she said.
Justice Oke said the magistrates’ courts, which would use the practice directions, would focus on reconciliation with the victim and community at large, rehabilitation, restitution and repair of the harm done and would as much as possible, under the law, impose non-custodial sentences, including fines, restitution orders, community service orders and so on.
The chief judge said the documents marked a history era in the criminal justice administration in the state.
She listed some of the highlights of the ACJL Practice Direction to include tightening the pre-trial remand procedure to address the challenge of awaiting trial inmates, introduction of the plea bargain protocol to encourage plea deals and decongest the criminal division docket and introduction of case management protocol to ensure that the prosecution and defence are properly prepared before trial opens.
“Criminal justice administration in the country has been beset by a myriad of challenges ranging from ineffective or incomplete investigations to delays in criminal trials, congested court dockets, the awaiting trial syndrome and the attendant congestion of our prisons, to name a few.
“Today in Nigeria, we have seen countless cases where defendants are arrested for minor offences of burglary, wandering, two fighting and so on; they are locked up in our prisons for the flimsiest reasons and join the teeming population awaiting trial. In fact, the awaiting trial inmates account for more than 75 per cent of the inmates in our prisons today.
“They are in our prisons with hardened criminals and by the time they come out, they have been initiated into a life of crime and are ready to spread terror, death and destruction in their post-prison escapades,” she said.
Justice Oke said Lagos State has been at the vanguard in terms of criminal justice reform when it passed the ACJL in 2007, amended it in 2011, adding that other states have always followed suit, adopted and improved upon it.
“Now Lagos State is going further with these new practice directions to realise the goal of expedited trials, improvement in the case disposal rates and hopefully this will culminate in the decongestion of our prisons.
“These practice directions are being launched today in keeping with my vision to ensure speedy resolution of our criminal cases and the entrenchment of restorative justice in the administration of justice in Lagos State, to create more avenues for access to justice and a holistic approach to criminal justice administration,” she said.